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‘35 Million Shoes’
War is a Racket by Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler

1935, 2003 edition from Feral House, with an essay by Adam Parfrey, two essays by Smedley Butler, and photos from The Horror of It, 80 pages

This volume is the late, great U.S. Marine Corps general’s bi-partisan case against for-profit war-making repackaged as a left-wing, liberal, anti-war tract. The essay by Mister Parfrey is as slanted to left wing utopian ideals as contemporary white nationalists' fantasies are slanted toward some mythical Nordic tribal paradise. This essay is not however, without value. It was worth the read, as Adam exposes 1930s government secrets that support the old general’s work, truths that did not come to light until long after the general’s death. Adam details the American love of Italian fascism, and goes into some specifics as to how American politicians pushed for General Butler’s court martial for his disparaging remarks about the Italian dictator Mussolini. Imagine Colin Powel being called out of retirement to face court martial for making negative remarks about the President of the Ukraine!

Smedley had been approached by a cabal of industrialists who wanted him to lead WWI veterans in a fascist coup to unseat the President. Butler was the only general that working and fighting men trusted after scumbag aristocratic generals Patton and Macarthur ordered and led an attack on peaceful veterans protesting for their 14 year old war bonus, killing a baby in the process.

The photos from The Horror Of It at the end of the book are a fitting compliment to Smedley’s attack on modern war. These are preceded by two letters that the general wrote after his famous tract was published, in an attempt to sway the U.S. electorate from backing a war against Japan. According to Butler, who applied military force in the Far East to make way for American oil interests, the U.S. was spoiling for a war against Japan as early as 1932. Although I was taught in school that the Japanese launched an unprovoked attack on an innocent America, the old general makes it clear that the U.S. government was doing everything in its power to foment war against Japan. He was further of the opinion that the ‘proud Japanese’ would be easily goaded into striking the first blow. These two letters make a sensible isolationist case that surely galled the American political elite, with its global corporate ambitions.

War is a Racket proper is broken into 5 short chapters:

1. War is a Racket!

2. Who Makes the Profits?

3. Who Pays the Bills?

4. How to Smash this racket!

5. To Hell with War!

Smedley Butler, who fought in a half dozen undeclared wars, and in the trenches of World War One, describes in detail how war takes from the brave and the poor and gives to the cowardly and the rich in exponential proportions. Specific examples such as the purchase by the government of 35 million pairs of boots for 4 million soldiers, who were never issued a second pair of boots, are shown as the outrageous foundation of U.S foreign policy. He describes how his men were killed by U.S. manufactured munitions sold to the enemy, how the vaunted "Dough Boys," arguably our best generation of citizen soldiers, were virtual slave soldiers, making only $9 a month and then being fleeced of that and having their promised bonuses withheld on return to the States.

Long before PTSD was a household term Smedley toured the country visiting tens of thousands of "broken men" locked in military hospice cages, whose minds had been shattered by the horrors of a war that was preached in churches as a holy crusade to "end all war." This book is in many ways a warrior’s view of his own use as an instrument of corporate greed; an old warrior who sees in his own youthful actions the extinction of his own kind.

Anyone interested in 20th Century U.S. history or modern military matters should read War is a Racket. As a sci-fi writer and critic, let me close this review with Smedley’s thoughts on scientists, which closely parallel those of German WWI veteran and sci-fi author Ernst Junger, “If we put them to work making poison gas and more and more fiendish mechanical and explosive instruments of destruction, they will have no time for the constructive job of building a greater prosperity of all peoples.”

An ‘isolationist’ who wants ‘greater prosperity of all peoples’?

I was taught since childhood that those are mutually exclusive sentiments.

If you ask any academic or politician today, they will quote JFK that "no man is an island" and go on to explain that it is impossible to be for political isolation and for "all peoples." Of course, none of those people supervised the murder of tens of thousands to smooth business operations for a few rich men, in "the name of democracy."

Add Comment
Bernie HackettOctober 3, 2016 10:14 PM UTC


Quote for 19th Century member of congress, Thomas Blaine, from Maine:

"A standing army is like a standing male member. While it insures domestic tranquility, it can lead to foreign adventures."
Jeremy BenthamJune 24, 2016 1:50 AM UTC

“There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights.” - Smedley Butler, Major General USMC – “War is a Racket” (1935)

"War, which used to be cruel and magnificent, has now become cruel and squalid."- Winston Churchill

“There is hardly such a thing as a war in which it makes no difference who wins. Nearly always one side stands more or less for progress, the other side more or less for reaction.” - George Orwell

“What's the point of having this superb military if you can't use it?” – The Honorable Madeline Albright, Secretary of State, to General Colin Powell, Charmain of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

MG Smedley Butler was a very interesting character. He is another case of an otherwise capable military leader who seriously missed the point of why people fight wars. If you’re not profiting from the war in some way, conferring benefit to the country, then you are doing it all wrong. Otherwise why pursue it? To piss away American lives and the nation’s wealth (like our government is doing now)? Being the jingoistic myrmidon that I am I believe all of America’s wars were just. Everybody America fought deserved to get their ass kicked for one reason or another. Now at the same time many of America’s wars, even ones that we won, were seriously mismanaged, which was the real crime. For example, the War of 1812. It was folly to start it, regardless of our righteous grievances, because we really stood little chance of defeating the British Empire’s military forces and could have suffered bigtime losses. In the event we lost it on the battlefield, but won it at the negotiating table. Most Americans today don’t realize how close we came to losing about a third of the country’s territory in the peace treaty. Among other punishing concessions they pushed for, the British insisted on the creation of a vast Indian buffer country made up of the present day states of Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and most of Minnesota and Ohio. Fortunately the USA’s chief negotiators, John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay, were hard bargainers who not only made no such territorial concessions but came away with most of America’s prewar grievances redressed in the Treaty of Ghent. As a proud and partisan Army guy it pains me to admit that the U.S. Army, both regulars and militia, was generally messed up and stupid during that war. The U.S. Navy on the other hand kicked ass, particularly the commerce raiders, the privateers. In fact it was the commerce raiders that forced the British to the peace table, since the Brits were losing millions of pounds monthly in captured merchant ships and cargo to the raiders. Many of the merchantmen were taken right out of British and European ports. Since the privateer sailors got a share of the prize money from the sale of the captured enemy ships and cargo, they had a big incentive to take the fight to the enemy. Profit.

Well we’ll have to forgive Major General Butler, since he was raised as a peace-loving Quaker but ran off to join the Marines at the start of the Spanish-American War, he obviously had some serious cognitive dissonance about what he was doing and why he was doing it. However today I find myself agreeing with the good general about eschewing all future foreign military adventures. We now experience the paradox of having a military that cannot be beaten and yet cannot win. Not only does our country’s political leadership lack the will to win a war, but half the people running our government hate America and want to see it punished. As such I’d feel safer if they just boarded the Pentagon up and laid all the troops off.
Sam J.June 23, 2016 2:36 PM UTC

There's an interesting side story to the attempt to take over the US in a coup that's effected aviation from WWII on. There was guy named Vincent J. Burnelli who invented a plane that the whole fuselage was like a wing. Very efficient. Less fuel. Took of and landed in less space carrying more weight. So what happened? Burnelli had the unfortunate luck of having a financial backer that was also one of the backers of the coup. When Roosevelt saw that one of these coup backers would financially benefit from Burnelli's plane, which the Army Air Corp was recommending he killed the whole damn thing.

After the war Boeing made a sketch of a plane similar to Burnelli's but he threatened to sue so they canceled that. As for rest there were so many surplus aircraft after the war that new aircraft had a hard time and it looked weird as people just weren't used to seeing that type aircraft.

People think the best ideas always triumph but they don't. Sometimes things just don't work out for odd reasons.